Solar in the high mountains: 'First power plant in 2025'

Switzerland's seven major electricity producers, to include the Ticino power company, are planning to build up to ten large-scale photovoltaic power plants at high altitudes - Roberto Pronini: " We will assess whether Ticino has the right conditions and locations to deploy similar projects."
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The basic premise for AET director Roberto Pronini is clear: "Solar installations at high altitude produce more energy in winter than in summer. And given that the problem of energy supply during winter will arise more intensely in the future, we have decided to invest in this project."

No locations identified

Seven major power suppliers in the country, including the Ticino Electricity Company (AET), have consequently decided to join forces with a view to building at least ten photovoltaic power plants in the highlands. Promoter of the project is IG Solalpine. "These are very reputable people with great expertise, both technical and legal," remarks Pronini. The promoters include, the former director of ElCom, Renato Tami, as one of them. AET appears in the project alongside other major energy producers in the country, such as Lucerne's CKW, EWZ and EKZ of Canton Zurich. "These are reliable partners with whom we share other investments. By doing so, we also want to replicate the formula we adopted in the 1970s for AET's involvement in nuclear power plants." The high-altitude solar power plants are expected to produce about 2,000 gigawatt hours per year. "At an altitude of 2,000 meters, solar panels have a 30 percent higher winter yield than in the plains. In fact, in winter, high-altitude plants have the advantage of being above the fog. Not forgetting that the cost of land is significantly lower than the prices charged in the plains. "Now it's a matter of assessing all the legal, planning and environmental aspects," Pronini continues. "Then the mountain zones in which to build the new facilities will have to be identified." At the moment, continues Pronini, no locations have been identified. The promise, however, is to build facilities with as little impact on the environment and aesthetic appeal as possible. Local communities," the report says in the NZZ, reporting yesterday in advance of the news, "will share in the revenues and will be involved, along with area associations, in the various stages of approaching the project.

At the federal level

An important aid, meanwhile, came during the last parliamentary session in Bern. Indeed, as part of discussions on urgent measures to secure electricity supply in the short term, the two houses approved a series of easings that will facilitate the construction of large-scale plants in mountainous areas. "A clear message came from the Chambers," Pronini explains. "We have to produce two more terawatt hours of renewable energy per year as soon as possible, including through simplified procedures. This project fits exactly into this furrow, contributing to the achievement of the goal."

Like two soccer fields

Meanwhile, in Upper Valais, someone has already moved. In the mountains of Grengiols and Gondo, two large solar power plants will soon be built that together will generate about 20 gigawatt hours per year. With a total annual production of 100 gigawatt hours between the public and private sectors, our canton, by contrast, is at the lower end of the ranking of regions that best exploit photovoltaics. "Clearly, it will be a matter of assessing whether there are suitable places in Ticino in which to develop similar projects," Pronini explains. "At the moment, the cantonal energy plan, however, does not provide for energy production with high-altitude power plants. In any case, if we were to invest only beyond Gotthard, we could still receive some of the energy for Ticino." But how big will these plants be? "We are speaking of facilities of a certain size. From the production profile they will have to guarantee at least 5 gigawatt hours. For size we can imagine one or two soccer fields. In any case, the idea is to find areas where people are present already with other activities. Think of ski lifts, where the electrical connection and access routes are already there. The idea is to have a few parks at the Swiss level, but they tend to be large." And on timelines? "The goal is to have the first Swiss power plant in service, capable of producing 10 gigawatt hours per year, by 2025," concludes Pronini.